Offaly 3-10 Cork 0-14
There’s a buzz about this Offaly team which will probably continue long after the All-Ireland U-20 football title the weekend after next. Win or lose. Their primary task will be to beat either Down or Roscommon and win the county’s second title in the grade but, indirectly, these lads are also making a statement. Offaly football is back.
They showed on Saturday in Portlaoise not only that their Leinster final win over Dublin was merited but that they are further down the road in development terms than even the most optimistic Offaly supporter had hoped for.
In recent seasons it seemed Offaly hurlers and footballers were vying with each other in a race to the bottom but having got their house in order the gloom is lifting rapidly and this thoroughly merited win in a cracking game will move them a few notches further along their rise.
It helps that the crowds are back as well. O’Moore Park was limited to 1,400 on Saturday but at times it felt like 14,000 for Cork had travelled in big numbers as well and gave full vent to their encouragement when a good second-half comeback was in full flow.
Offaly should have had the game wrapped up by half-time but they squandered goal chances. And yet when they pulled nine points clear after the break they still weren’t safe and it took a timely goal before the second water break from Cathal Flynn and then one deep into injury-time from man of the match Jack Bryant to finally kill off the Rebels.
No wonder Cork manager Keith Ricken, who has been a breath of fresh air all summer and indeed for many years, was fulsome in his praise not only for his own side but for the victors as well.
#CORvOFF Lán Ama— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) July 31, 2021
Bainisteoir peile fé 20 @OfficialCorkGAA , Keith Ricken, ag caint le @ohfadabee i ndiaidh an chluiche tráthnóna
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“We stood up in the second half and tried to answer the problems we created ourselves in the first half. Yes, we left holes at the back which they exploited with a bit of pace and some very good players.
“I genuinely thought we left it all out there in the second half. We fell nine points down at the start of the second half and were really under the cosh, but nobody went into hiding.
“I’m very happy with that side of things and I think from my role in the development of Cork football we’ve done that again.
“I believe we will get a lot of players from this group and the hurt and pain from this evening will be used to their advantage.
“I know Declan Kelly and the Offaly lads well. They were well worth their win and good luck to them. They worked hard for their win,” said Ricken.
Offaly led by 1-7 to 0-3 at the break, Bryant finishing to the top right corner after his full-back Tom Hyland and Bryant had shot wide with goal chances but they outscored Cork by 1-4 to 0-1 when Cork wing-back Adam Walsh-Murphy was binned as the Rebels had little choice but to foul to contain Offaly’s flowing game.
Cork rallied after falling nine behind early in the second half. Brian Hayes, Ciarán O’Sullivan, Jack Cahalane and Colin Walsh made an impact and they started eating into the lead but they rarely looked like getting a goal against a solid rearguard manned at centre back by John Furlong, a grandson of triple All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Martin.
Flynn’s goal before the water break was huge. And then when Cork again rallied and outscored Offaly by 0-6 to 0-1 in the final quarter to reduce the margin to two, the Leinster champions again responded to the challenge superbly and Cormac Egan set Bryant up for the clinching score to send them into the All-Ireland final for the first time since they won their only crown in the grade in 1988.
Offaly manager Declan Kelly said the success of this team hasn’t come overnight but didn’t downplay its impact.
“They haven’t come from nowhere. There have been a core of lads who have been working hard in the past few years. It’s our fourth year with them. There’s a good core of hurlers and footballers coming through in Offaly. They are getting very competitive and the whole thing now is to try and get over the line and win something. Winning the Leinster was a big thing for the county, for both grades. It’s after giving belief to the lads and giving a big lift to the county.
“All of these lads would have never seen Offaly win Leinster, a lot of young people around the county who are playing have never seen it. And then you have the older generation who saw a lot of it and are seeing Offaly win again and the younger generation are seeing it for the first time. There’s a good bit of excitement around.”
Both of Jack Bryant’s goals were decisive but perhaps it was the one he set up for Cathal Flynn after 46 minutes which was the key score of the game. Cork were eating into the lead, they had got it back to four with the second water break imminent, and that was a killer score.
Other counties in the doldrums should head to Offaly and copy their model for recovery. And it’s not all down to Michael Duignan, a lot of the structures which are now bearing fruit were in place before he became county board chairman, but the Offaly model shows what can be achieved when the right systems and people are put in place.
Another big statement not just for Offaly football, but for the GAA in the county. And the swashbuckling style of football they play is a joy to watch. It’s like watching a new generation of Johnny Pilkingtons coming through.
Cork could really have done with this side going all the way given what happened in Killarney the previous Sunday but they should take hope in the quality of a lot of the players coming through.
BEST ON SHOW
Full-forward Jack Bryant was outstanding. He scored 2-4 but also set up several scores and was comfortable off either foot. He’s a full-back’s worst nightmare, good in the air, on the ground and running into great positions to take a pass.
A great battle throughout. Cork struggled to contain Offaly’s running game in the opening but got to grips with it in a crowded middle third of the field. Offaly’s use of the ball was outstanding, while Cork rarely looked like getting a goal.
Nothing new of any significance in a busy summer for both these squads.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Liam Devenney was sharp on the whistle on pushes and other fouls but still managed to let the game flow. Offaly would rightly have a few quibbles about some tight calls and probably should have got a penalty.
Offaly will now play either Down or Roscommon in the All-Ireland U-20 final on Saturday week while Cork’s season fizzles out after the high of winning Munster.
Scorers for Offaly: J Bryant (2-4, 2 frees); C Flynn (1-0); A Kellaghan (0-2, 1 mark); L Pearson, M Tynan (free), C Egan, K O’Neill (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork: D Buckley (0-5, 4 frees, 1 mark); C O’Sullivan (0-4, 1 45); C Walsh (0-2); M O’Neill (free), D Dorgan (free), B Hayes (45) (0-1 each)
OFFALY: S O’Toole; A Brazil, T Hyland, L Pearson; R Egan, J Furlong, F Dempsey; E Cullen, M Tynan; C Flynn, O Keenan Martin, C Donoghue; Cormac Egan, J Bryant, A Kellaghan.
Subs for Offaly: K O’Neill for Kellaghan (8-9 blood), O’Neill for Tynan (46), C Delaney for Kellaghan (52).
CORK: G Creedon; C O’Donovan, D Phelan, C McGoldrick; A Walsh-Murphy, T Walsh, D Cashman; B Hayes, N Hartnett; D Buckley, J Cahalane, C O’Sullivan; D Dorgan, C Walsh, M O’Neill.
Subs for Cork: S McDonnell for Dorgan (29), S O’Sullivan for O’Neill (35), D Holland for Walsh-Murphy (40), E Nash for Harnett (47), N Lordan for Cashman (47-49), J Kelleher for C Walsh (54).
Referee: Liam Devenney (Mayo)